Kari Lake struggles to win over her GOP skeptics: From the Politics Desk

Welcome to the online version of From the Politics Desk, an evening newsletter that brings you the NBC News Politics team’s latest reporting and analysis from the campaign trail, the White House and Capitol Hill.

In today’s edition, correspondent Vaughn Hillyard and campaign embed Alex Tabet report from Arizona on Kari Lake’s attempts to win over her GOP skeptics. Plus, senior national political reporter Jonathan Allen explains why Donald Trump may look back at this month as a missed opportunity.

Kari Lake struggles to shake her MAGA instincts in her Senate campaign

By Vaughn Hillyard and Alex Tabet

PHOENIX — This winter, Kari Lake was facing a daunting reality: The voters who rejected her in her 2022 run for governor could now jeopardize her entire political future. 

If Lake — “Trump in heels,” as she has referred to herself — didn’t begin to quickly change the minds of those she had shunned or ridiculed, she could lose, again, in her 2024 Senate bid.

“I have never thought of myself as divisive. But it’s not enough for ME to believe that. I need to prove it,” Lake wrote in a social media post in December, acknowledging the need to step away from her tendencies to make incendiary comments and broaden her appeal.

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But with just over seven months until the election, several key Arizona Republicans tell NBC News that they believe Lake’s campaign is facing an increasingly uphill battle. 

“What I hear is, everybody has just resigned themselves that we’re going to be stuck with a Ruben Gallego — that’s what I hear from all the major players, the big-money people,” Shiree Verdone, a longtime GOP fundraiser in Arizona, said, referring to Lake’s Democratic Senate opponent. “I haven’t heard anyone say, ‘Kari Lake is going to win.’”

Lake continues to deny that Donald Trump lost the 2020 presidential election, tweeting this month about President Joe Biden: “81 million votes, my a–.” She continues to call her 2022 election loss “a sham,” promotes right-wing provocateurs like Laura Loomer, and hosts fundraising events with controversial political figures like Roger Stone at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club.

Since launching her Senate bid, Lake has set up meetings to mend relationships with other Republicans she cast aside during her run for governor, like Kathy Petsas, a former local party chair in Lake’s home legislative district. Lake’s campaign tweeted at her in 2022: “Kathy, You’re exactly the type of demographic that we feel no need to appeal to.”

“I don’t know one person that she’s gotten on her side of the people who she offended,” Petsas said, suggesting Lake’s overtures have fallen flat. “There’s nobody from my circle that she’s gained, and she’s even alienated some previous supporters, too, who I know.”

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A moment of peril for Trump as Biden unifies party and stockpiles cash

Analysis by Jonathan Allen

President Joe Biden
President Joe Biden in Raleigh, N.C., on March 26, 2024.Stephanie Scarbrough / AP

If Biden wins re-election in November, Trump may look back at this moment as a missed opportunity.

For the first time in memory, Biden is seeing encouraging signs in national and battleground state polls. It would be hard to define small bumps in a handful of surveys as a surge or the momentum — “Big Mo” — that politicians chase like Ponce de Leon pursued the fountain of youth.

But Biden is riding a little higher as March comes to a close, and Trump, who has locked up his own nomination, no longer has competitive primary victories to point to as evidence of strength.

Biden’s fundraiser Thursday at Radio City Music Hall, featuring former Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, provides a portrait of party unity and energy for the sitting president. More importantly, perhaps, it is expected to bring in $25 million for his re-election effort — a jaw-dropping figure for a single day. 

Trump has spent much of his political money defending himself in court, a dynamic he attributes, without evidence, to what he says is a Biden-coordinated effort to defeat him by prosecution. Aside from the basic paradox — the Republican nominee wants voters to believe that Biden is a doddering old man and also the mastermind behind four criminal trials — Trump is in danger of failing to do exactly what Biden is doing today: bring his party together and raise a bleep-load of cash.

Whatever one believes about Trump’s actual wealth, or his liquidity, he has the kind of money that he could inject tens or hundreds of millions of dollars into his own campaign. Were he to win, he would no doubt be able to replenish the coffers and pay himself back, as he did when he won the presidency in 2016.

Trump probably doesn’t have to spend as much as Biden to win, but he doesn’t have the money now to run a full-scale national campaign. If he doesn’t put serious cash into his campaign — or figure out how to raise it from others — he risks falling perilously behind a Biden campaign that figures to dump more than $1 billion into its effort.

Trump said recently that he might put his own money into his campaign. The questions for him now are how much he values the presidency and whether the odds are worth putting up his own stake. If he waits much longer to make that call, he could find that it’s too late.

🗞️ Today’s top stories

  • ⚖️ 25 years: Sam Bankman-Fried received a 25-year prison sentence Wednesday after being convicted for fraud related to the cryptocurrency exchange FTX. Read more →
  • 🪜 AdVancing in Trump world: Sen. JD Vance, R-Ohio, is seeing his stock rise in Trump’s orbit after he helped Bernie Moreno win his state’s GOP Senate primary this month. Read more →
  • 👮 Fact check: While Trump regularly talks about rising crime on the stump, FBI statistics suggest that there was a steep drop in crime across the country last year and that violent crime is on the decline in some major cities. Read more →
  • ✈️ Flight issues: The New York Times explores the issues plaguing Boeing and whether the company prioritized speed over quality. Read more →
  • ⏰ Running out of time in South Carolina: Even though a lower court ruled South Carolina’s congressional map amounted to an illegal racial gerrymander, federal judges say the state will have to move forward under those lines for this election cycle because the Supreme Court hasn’t weighed in yet. Read more →
  • 🗓️ Mark your calendar: Speaker Mike Johnson said the House would send impeachment articles against Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to the Senate on April 10. Read more →
  • ❌ That’s classified: A new Democratic bill would ban people charged with certain crimes related to jeopardizing national security from receiving classified information, a bill that implicitly targets embattled Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and Trump. Read more →

That’s all from The Politics Desk for now. If you have feedback — likes or dislikes — email us at politicsnewsletter@nbcuni.com

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